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ther fignal inftance of the mutability of for tune is obfervable in the occurrences of the life of Mordecai, one of the principal of the captive Jews, and Efther, a niece of his, whom, upon the death of her parents, he had taken under his protection, and brought up as his own daughter, in the city of Babylon, where he refided. The exquifite beauty of this Ifraelitifh damfel raifed her to the throne of Affyria, and was likewife the cause of the exaltation of Mordecai.
Ahafuerus, (as he is named by the Jewish writers, but by the Grecks, Artaxerxes) fucceeded his father Xerxes, to the united fovereignty of the Medes and Perfians, an empire which at that time was comprized of one hundred and twenty-feven provinces, extending from India to Ethiopia; and when he had regulated all the concerns of this vaft tract, which was not till the third year of his reign, he caufed the governors of the feveral provinces, and their dependents, to be invited to a fplendid and fumptuous entertainment at Sufa, where he kept his court.
During the folemnity of this feaft, which lafted one hundred and eighty days, nothing was. omitted that could difplay the magnifi
cence and courtesy of so great a prince. And; as a proof of the king's attention to render his guests as happy as it was in his power to make them, he propofed to treat them with a fight of Vashti, his queen, who was efteemed the most beautiful woman of the age.
But it being the cuftom, even in thofe days, among the eastern nations, that the women fhould be feen only by their domeftics, and not expofed to the public eye, Vashti repeatedly refufed to obey the royal mandate. At which Ahafuerus was fo exafperated, that, as foon as the feftivity was over, having confulted the fages of his court upon the occafion, he thought proper to put her away; and in order to fupply her place, he caused the finest women in his dominions to be felected for his choice.
Among thofe who were brought for that purpose, was Efther; whofe fingular adventures have been thought worthy a place in Holy Record. This virgin fo excelled all the reft in the graces of her perfon and carriage, that she was treated with uncommon care and refpe&t by the eunuch to whofe charge fhe was committed, and was fupplied
by him with coftly effences and perfumes, together with every ornamental curiofity that could contribute to heighten her charms.
The number of virgins thus collected for the king's approbation, amounted to four hundred; who were brought by turns to his bed, and in the morning reftored to the care of the eunuchs, till his choice fhould be made. But when, in the courfe of the rotation, Efther became his companion for the night, he was fo tranfported with her perfonal charms, and engaging demeanour, that he gave her the preference to all the others, and made her his wife. Their nuptials were accordingly celebrated in the prefence of his principal nobility, before whom he himself placed the crown on her head; and an entertainment and public rejoicings followed, which lafted a month. So intoxicated was Ahasuerus with the felicity he enjoyed, that he made no enquiry relative to the country or extraction of his fair bride.
Upon this unexpected elevation of Esther, her uncle Mordecai removed from Babylon to Sufa, where he often waited at the gate of the palace, in hopes of being able fometimes to obtain a fight of his much-loved
niece, and that he might the more readily hear of her welfare.
About this time Ahafuerus paffed an ordinance, importing, that none of his houfehold fhould prefume to approach his prefence while he was feated on his throne, and engaged in the administration of justice, on forfeiture of their lives. As the king then ufually fat with a golden fceptre in his hand, unless that was extended to the perfons offending, and they were permitted to kifs it, nothing could exempt them from the penalty.
It happened, not long after, that two of the chamberlains, or eunuchs, whofe names were Bigthan and Terefh, entered into a confpiracy against the person of their royal mafter. Barnabarus, a fervant to one of the confpirators, who was a Jew by extraction, discovered this treachery to Mordecai the queen's uncle; and, through the medium of Efther, the king was apprifed of his danger. Enquiry was accordingly made into the affair, and the traitors being convicted, fuffered for their crime. For this fervice Mordecai received no other reward than that of having the transaction entered in the records
of the flate, and being allowed the privilege of admission to the palace, on the fame footing as the domeftics.
An Amalekite, of the name of Haman, had now become the favourite of Ahafuerus; and, as the favourites of monarchs ufually do, he thought himself entitled to the moft fervile adulation from all beneath him. So that whoever happened to be in his way, as he paffed and repaffed to and from the royal prefence, paid him the most profound reverence. Mordecai alone ftood excepted. Ceremonies of this nature being contrary to the practice of his nation, he refufed to pay Haman that fubmiffion which others did. The favourite's offended pride took fire at this neglect, and he determined to avenge himself, not only of Mordecai, but to extend his vengeance to all the captive Jews; a people peculiarly difguftful to the Amalekites, that nation having formerly been fubdued, and nearly exterminated by the children of Ifrael.
In order to effect this purpofe, he endeavoured to prejudice the king against them, by infinuating, as opportunity offered, that they were unfociable, and fingular in their